OSBC - Lack of support hinders open-source popularity

For all of the virtues of open-source software touted by backers, the level of commercial support available to enterprises today is not among them. Apart from Linux vendors such as Red Hat or Novell, most of the firms that have commercialized open-source software are single-product firms barely out of the startup stage.

And that is just not appealing to most corporate IT decision-makers looking to add open-source applications to their software stack, according to members of a panel at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco. They said Wednesday that companies are likely to prefer the uncomplicated safety net of being able to turn to a single support provider in case of problems.

"More of our customers are telling us they want to try open-source but that they have concerns: 'Is it going to work well, work with other applications, and where do I get support?'" said Philip Robinson, an open-source manager in Hewlett-Packard Co.'s consulting group.

HP and IBM are two big names already providing enterprise support for open-source software. But a number of third-party support providers us emerging to provide integration, maintenance and interoperative certification for open-source applications. Some of those firms, including OpenLogic, Virtuas Solutions, CIGNEX Technologies and SpikeSource, are recent startups that claim to offer all-in-one support that competes with HP and IBM's offerings or complements them.

"People don't want 150 support contracts; They don't want to have to monitor 150 Web sites," said Steven Grandchamp, CEO of OpenLogic.

One of the claimed advantages of turning to open-source software is that it is easier for users to switch products than when they are using proprietary software. But Brian Howard, senior vice president for corporate planning and architecture for shipping firm APL, said that open-source users are still effectively locked-in today when using open-source software, because of the tiny number of support providers.

"There are a lot more people standing in front of me who say they can support my .Net stack than people who say they can support open-source," he said.

Grandchamp, however, insists that the number of support options for enterprises is growing fast.

And enterprises that prefer getting support from bigger companies such as IBM or HP, can still turn to smaller firms such as Virtuas Solutions for niche areas, said Matt Filios, Virtuas' founder and general manager.

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